The ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes in Giardia lamblia are present as short tandem arrays of a 5.6 Kb repeat unit on at least six telomeres. Four of these telomeres have the same overall organisation comprising a domain ranging in size from 25 to 300 Kb, delineated chromosome internally by a conserved island of restriction enzyme sites. Cloned lines of G. lamblia derived from the WB strain contain polymorphic subsets of chromosomes encoding rRNA genes. However, changes in the size of the rRNA telomere domains of these polymorphic chromosomes alone cannot account for the total size changes in the chromosomes. The rearrangement events are very frequent: 60% of subcloned lines had discrete rearranged karyotypes that differed from each other, suggesting either an estimated rearrangement rate that may be as high as 3% per division or a cloning-induced rearrangement event. The extreme plasticity of the genome has obvious implications for the maintenance of a functional genome and the control of gene expression in Giardia.